Jul 23, 2014
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Dairy Today Healthline

Do You Have An Animal Welfare Plan?

Jul 17, 2014

The absence of an animal care program on your dairy is a ticking time bomb just waiting for an undercover video. Here’s how to start your program.

thayerBy Travis Thayer, Diamond V

In my role as Dairy Technical Trainer with Diamond V, I work with dairy producers to help their employees understand the "why" behind the protocols that they are asked to follow (milking, feeding, fresh cow treatment, calf care, maternity, etc.).

With the recent flurry of animal activist videos showing grievous cases of animal abuse, I am increasingly asked to talk to employees about animal welfare, down cow care and basic animal handling, with the goal of preventing any of these types of unfortunate situations on their farms.

Many dairies are very progressive and have solid animal care programs in place before I ever step foot on the farm. In that case, I just review the issues of public perception and humane animal care with the employees and go over the protocols that are already in place.

However, some dairies have not yet fully implemented programs to train and direct employees with protocols on proper animal care. This is a ticking time bomb just waiting for a video that could result in loss of your market and livelihood, and will decrease consumer confidence in our industry. Consumers are increasingly interested and aware of where their food comes from, and they want to feel confident that the animals in your care are treated humanely.

Following are a few key points to consider in the animal care program on your operation:

It Starts at the Top

Create an animal care agreement (in employees’ appropriate native language) that employees must sign stating that they understand that animal abuse on your farm is not tolerated and will result in immediate termination. It should also include a statement that employees are expected to report any abuse they observe on the farm by other employees, and that failure to do so will result in their termination as well. Hold a meeting to discuss the issues and let employees know that proper animal care is expected. From that point forward, make the animal care agreement part of new employee training, and consider periodic meetings to reinforce these guidelines with all employees.

Have a Plan

Consider the following questions:
• Do you have a plan to safely (for people and cows) and humanely move non-ambulatory animals out of tight spots (milking parlors, holding pens, alleyways, etc.) without dragging them or otherwise causing additional harm?
• Do you have a down cow care protocol that lays out proper animal care guidelines, including timely, humane euthanasia, if necessary?
• Do the employees have access to all the tools they need to do the job safely and humanely?
• Are the employees aware of the protocols, and have they been properly trained to execute them?

If the answer to these questions is yes, great! You are way ahead of the game. But, if you answered no to any of these questions, it is time to review your program and make changes.

Behave as if Everything You Do is on Video

I advise owners, managers, and employees to always act as if you are already on video. If you are doing something that you would not feel comfortable seeing on YouTube, rethink what you are doing.

Consider Context

Several of the videos out there not only show physical mistreatment of animals, but are also accompanied by audio with language that might make a sailor blush. Consider the following situation that shows up on video:

You have a cow that just slipped in the alley. She looks alert and strong and you think she can get up on her own, and she is in a place that allows her the space to do so. You make sure she has good footing, and you slap her on the rump to startle her to get up, lifting her tail to help, and when that does not work, you decide to touch her once with a hotshot to see if you can get her to make the effort. This is an acceptable, humane attempt to help her get up.Now overlay two different audio tracks that go with the video:

First Audio Track: The handler is speaking words of encouragement in a caring voice – "Come on, mama." "You can do it!" "Almost there!" accompanied by gentle sounds, kisses, clucks, etc.

Second Audio Track: The handler shouts loudly, in anger and frustration and releases a string of cusswords that they would never utter in polite company. "Get up you miserable ****!"

Which audio track is likely to convey compassion and caring, and instill confidence in the consumer that this animal is being taken care of humanely? Attitude is everything. It is natural to be frustrated, especially when one is very busy and has a lot of work to get done. Take a time out. Count to 10. Go get a drink. Take a break. Do whatever it takes to get your emotions under control and do the best job you can to help the cow. If she is unable to get up on her own after a reasonable attempt at encouragement, follow your non-ambulatory cow protocol to move her to a safe, clean, comfortable place where you can give her proper treatment and supportive care.

Consult Your Herd Veterinarian

Veterinarians are the best resource for proper animal care protocols on your farm. Ask a veterinarian familiar with your farm to review and/or create protocols on your farm, unique to your facilities. They can offer solutions for proper non- ambulatory cow movement, down cow treatment protocols, and proper euthanasia techniques.

Accidents happen on farms sometimes, creating unpleasant situations that need to be managed properly. Anticipate and plan, and they can be resolved in a humane way that shows that you care.

Travis Thayer, DVM, is Dairy Technical Trainer for Diamond V. Based in California, he can be reached at 510-910-3126 or tthayer@diamondv.com.

Watch Temperatures When Vaccinating to Prevent Calf Respiratory Disease

Jul 10, 2014

Tips to help ensure your dairy heifers get the most protection possible when the heat hits.

Novartis   Doug Scholz, DVM, director of veterinary services, Novartis Animal Health

By Doug Scholz, DVM, Director of Veterinary Services, Novartis Animal Health

Reducing bovine respiratory disease (BRD) in developing dairy heifers is important from both an animal welfare and economic standpoint, regardless of the season or climate.

Calf pneumonia can strike any time of year and puts future herd productivity at risk. A study tracking the effects of respiratory disease on Holstein calves showed those with a history of respiratory disease are two-and-one-half times more likely to die prior to delivering their first calves, as compared to calves that remained healthy.1

Bovine respiratory disease associated with Mannheimia (Pasteurella) haemolytica, in particular, is recognized for its severity and rapid onset in dairy calves, so vaccinating to prevent BRD is a smart herd health management protocol. To get the most protection vaccines can offer, producers need to remember that other factors such as stress, nutrition and weather should all be taken into account to ensure that vaccine programs provide the best result.

As summer heats up, so does the likelihood of calves experiencing heat stress. One of the challenges of heat stress is that it limits an animal’s ability to build an immune response, and there is no way to predict which animals are more sensitive to its effects. Administering vaccines in excessively hot or humid conditions should be avoided whenever possible. It’s always better to vaccinate early in the day when air temperatures are cooler. And that goes for both calves and cows. In the summertime, this means avoiding vaccinating cattle if the temperature is above 85 degrees with humidity above 40%, or at higher temperatures with lower humidity.

Heat stress can also lower an animal’s natural barriers to bacteria.2 That’s why it’s also important not to overload cattle with gram-negative vaccines in the heat of summer. For the best advice regarding summertime vaccinations and timing, consult with your herd veterinarian.

Additional Vaccination Tips:

• Properly store products.
• Administer vaccines according to label directions.
• Use good hygiene when administering vaccines.
• Keep appropriate treatments like epinephrine on hand to quickly address any adverse animal reaction.

1. Waltner-Toews D, Martin SW, Meek AH. The effect of early calfhood health status on survivorship and age at first calving. Can J Vet Res 1986;50:314-317.
2. Lambert GP. Stress-induced gastrointestinal barrier dysfunction and its inflammatory effects. J Animal Sci 2009;87:E101-E108.

For more information visit www.ah.novartis.us or www.nuplura.com.


Calcium Is the Cornerstone to Transition Cow Success

Jul 03, 2014

Strategies for meeting your herd’s calcium needs.

By Glenn Holub, Prince Agri Products, Inc.

The transition period is the most challenging time during the production cycle of a dairy cow. One of the major determinants of whether a cow transitions properly is her ability to maintain normal blood calcium concentrations of more than 8.5 mg/dL.

A recent study reported more than 50 percent of cows and 25 percent of first lactation heifers have blood calcium concentrations after calving in the range considered subclinical (Reinhardt, 2011). Subclinical hypocalcemic cows are at greater risk for developing metabolic and infectious diseases postpartum, illustrating the importance of calcium status during the transition period. Fortunately, the physiology of calcium status is now more fully understood and can be effectively managed through proper management and nutrition. Through the use of these nutritional strategies, it is possible to help reduce the diseases related to low blood calcium.

The metabolic and physiological demands for calcium increase dramatically as calving approaches. The calving process, colostrum production and milk synthesis all have a requirement for calcium and collectively may exceed the available levels in circulation, leading to either subclinical hypocalcemia or clinical milk fever. Calcium is essential for normal cellular activity and function of almost all cells. Cells of the immune system have the same need, and cows that become hypocalcemic are more susceptible to infection and disease because immune cell activity is impaired.

Meeting calcium needs

There are several strategies for maintaining blood calcium concentrations to avoid hypocalcemia. Most practical and effective approaches nutritionally manipulate dietary macro-mineral ions, such as chloride, sulfur, sodium and potassium. By feeding a diet higher in the negative ions (chlorine and sulfur) and lower in the positive ions (sodium and potassium), the cow’s blood becomes mildly acidic. This stimulates the physiological processes needed to mobilize bone calcium stores and initiate dietary intestinal calcium uptake necessary for meeting the calcium demands associated with transition. This strategy is referred to as feeding a negative dietary cation-anion difference (DCAD) diet or ‘acidified’ diet.

The success of a negative DCAD nutritional strategy can be measured using urine pH prepartum and blood calcium levels within the first 24 to 48 hours of calving. Urine pH targets, when samples are tested after three to four days of feeding a negative DCAD diet, should be within the range of 5.5 to 6.0 for all breeds.

Negative DCAD diets are most effective when fed at a calculated DCAD value of -10 to -15 mEq/100g of dry matter and fed continuously for a minimum of 21 days prior to calving. Because some DCAD feed additives are not palatable, it is important to feed a product that promotes a high level of dry matter intake during this period.

Monitoring blood calcium levels

If postpartum blood calcium concentrations are monitored, values should be near or above 8.5 mg/dL. Blood calcium concentrations begin to fall two or three days prior to calving due to demand for colostrum production. During this time, a dry matter intake reduction usually takes place and exacerbates the issue of lowered calcium concentrations.

Typically, blood calcium concentrations are lowest two to three days after calving, and cows do not usually recover fully until three to four days later when normal blood calcium concentrations return to 8.5 to 10 mg/dL. Fresh cow diets containing calcium concentrations between 1.0 and 1.1 percent may provide the necessary levels to avoid prolonged subclinical hypocalcemia status. Utilizing ingredients with high bioavailability may be warranted.

In addition to feeding the proper dietary levels of anions, other nutritional adjustments need to be made to the pre-fresh negative DCAD diet to ensure optimal transition success. These include feeding dietary dry matter levels of 1.4 to 1.6 percent for calcium and 0.45 to 0.5 percent for magnesium.

Keeping a cow’s blood calcium level at or above 8.5 mg/dL throughout the transition period by feeding a highly palatable -10 to -15 mEq/100g negative DCAD or fully acidified diet will help reduce the incidence of hypocalcemia and its related cascade of diseases. Following this with a highly bioavailable calcium diet postpartum will further enhance the recovery from transition to peak milk.
Strategies for meeting your herd’s calcium needs.

Glenn Holub, Ph.D., PAS, is a dairy technology manager for Prince Agri Products, Inc. He is a former animal science professor specializing in dairy cattle nutrition and can be contacted at glenn.holub@princeagri.com.

Reinhardt, T. A., J. D. Lippolis, B. J. Mc Cluskey, J. P. Goff, and R.L. Horst. 2011. Prevalence of subclinical hypocalcemia in dairy herds. Vet. J. 188:122–124.

5 Tips to Evaluate Dairy Technology Tools

Jun 09, 2014

Technology has brought tremendous progress to dairies. But before you purchase a new technological device or system, ask yourself these questions.

By Jerry Corman, Dairy Sales Manager, MICRO, an MWI Company

Dairy producers use a myriad of technology tools on a daily basis. From herd management software to rumination monitoring to feed management systems, a plethora of devices and mechanisms are designed to increase knowledge and aid in decision-making. However, sifting through all of the technology available and determining which tools best fit on a dairy can be a daunting task.

According to precision dairy experts at the University of Kentucky, the decision-making landscape for a dairy manager has changed dramatically in recent years. In large part, many of these changes can be attributed to tremendous technological progress in all facets of dairy farming including genetics, nutrition, reproduction, disease control and management.1

Here are questions producers should ask technology providers and their management team when evaluating technology purchases.

1. Determine Needs
What key challenges must a technology address or fix? Is it a management challenge, a reproductive challenge, a nutrition challenge, all of these, or something else entirely?

This evaluation process should involve an in-depth internal investigation and an honest assessment of wants versus needs. It should not be about finding the fastest, cheapest tools available.

Once you identify the core need or needs, work on determining the best solution to fill that need and prevent future issues through tracking and measuring performance.

Keep in mind that adding technology usually means dairy owners, dairy personal and consultants will have to change current processes and methods to realize the value a systems approach can provide. If the operation continues to do what it has always done and just adds a technology system, it will likely set the stage for failure.

2. Technology Partners
Be sure to work with technology organizations willing to provide continuous training for dairy personnel, excellent service and provide an ongoing technology growth path including regular system updates.

Every system is different and every dairy is different; be wary of one-size-fits-all answers to your questions and folks who just want to sell you something without committing to a long-term value-based relationship. Seek out technology partners with ethics, values and standards similar to those of your dairy.

3. Team Involvement
The selection process should be part of a team exercise—a process that’s aimed at helping your operation meet specific goals and is concentrated on finding solutions individualized for your dairy’s situation and management strategy.

That means getting input from trusted advisors including your veterinarian, nutritionist and key dairy personnel. Also visit with other producers who have installed the technology to learn first-hand how it works on-farm and how they overcame any challenges that can accompany implementing new tools.

4. Implementation Strategy
The technology works. Implementation, however, can be a bigger challenge.

Facilities, personnel and management philosophies differ from one dairy to another, but the technology, while adaptable, remains the same. The key is to address these nuances and increase adaptation flexibility whenever possible to support implementation and on-farm use.

You need to provide strong leadership commitment to encourage team buy-in and employee understanding so that you get the full benefit of any technology you add to your dairy.

Forbes magazine offers this advice2:

  • Focus on the outcomes you are trying to achieve and see that your initiative is a journey in which a few turns might be necessary to achieve your goals.
  • You likely will have to iterate, make changes and optimize.
  • Keep communicating.
  • Establish baselines against which to measure your progress and milestones, and continue to analyze that data and seek out areas to improve.

5. Return on Investment
Many dairy owners and managers immediately ask about technology cost. While fiscal responsibility is critical to the operation of a dairy business, cost shouldn’t be your first question. Nor is it really the right question to ask.

Focus instead on the return on your investment. What is the value the technology will bring to your dairy? What will be the impact on your business’s bottom line?

Run the numbers using financial and performance data from your operation to determine how the technology can add value to your dairy. Shoot for a 3:1 or 4:1 return on investment whenever possible.

Keep in mind the benefits of any system will probably not be readily apparent in the first day, week or even month, but stick with it. You’ll need to learn how to interpret and use the data to help you make more timely and informed management decisions—which along with improved animal and financial performance—is the underlying value of your investment.

Again, any time you evaluate new tools for your operation, you cannot do what you have always done, add a technology system and assume positive change will occur. If you choose that path, you will not achieve the expected value because you will not generate the expected ROI. And that undermines everything you have worked to achieve.

1 Bewley J. New Technologies in Precision Dairy Management. University of Kentucky Department of Food and Animal Sciences. Available at: http://www.wcds.ca/proc/2013/Manuscripts/p%20141%20-%20162%20Bewley.pdf. Accessed April 10, 2014.
2 Bernshteyn R. How to get employees to (really) use technology. Forbes. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ciocentral/2011/07/14/how-to-get-employees-to-really-use-new-technology/. Accessed April 24, 2014.


Hot Summer Weather Can Lead to Increased Lameness

Jun 02, 2014

Follow these guidelines to manage heat stress in your dairy herd.

By Dr. Jeff DeFrain, Dairy Research Nutritionist, Zinpro Corporation

Hot weather may not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering causes of lameness in dairy cattle, but it is common to see an increase in the rate of new claw horn lesions in cows at the end of the summer. This increase is most often driven by changes in eating and resting behavior and the subsequent increase in the risk of sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA).

Dairy cows begin to show signs of heat stress when the U.S.-based Temperature Humidity Indexa (Figure 1) nears approximately 68°F (20°C), which is well below the point where humans perceive heat stress. At this point, cows may show an elevated respiratory rate and body temperature, decreased feed intake and reduced milk production and reproductive performance. Cows in severe heat stress will begin open-mouth breathing (also called thermal panting). Thermal panting leads to respiratory alkalosis and the subsequent onset of metabolic acidosis.

There are a number of tools and techniques that can be used to manage heat stress on the dairy. By keeping dairy cows as comfortable as possible during times of heat stress, it is possible to minimize loss of milk and reproduction performance, minimize the increase in standing times and associated increase in new claw lesions, and maintain calf birth weights.

Ensure Cows Have Adequate Access to Water

Water availability is the first priority when mitigating heat stress, as water intake increases 20% to 200% when cows are heat-stressed. Cows entering and leaving the milking parlor and holding areas should have easy access to water, without adversely impairing cow flow. In the pen, provide at least 3.5" (9 cm) of trough space per cow to provide adequate water access in hot climates.

Other guidelines:
• Provide at least two water locations per group.
• Provide water space at the parlor exit alley, with enough space for all cows to drink.
• Ensure flow rates are adequate to meet peak demand.
• Keep waterers clean.

Install Soakers in Holding Area and Feed Alley

Soakers should first be installed in the holding area and then along the feed bunk in the pens. It is important that the water droplets are large enough to soak into the cow’s skin. Droplets that are too fine merely create an insulating layer on the surface of the hair.

Other guidelines:
• Activate soakers at 70°F (21°C).
• Increase soaking frequency as the temperature increases.
• The system should be sized to provide 0.34 gal. (1.3 liters) of water per cow per soaker cycle.
• Sprinklers should wet the cows’ backs and then stop to allow the water to evaporate prior to another cycle beginning.
• In humid environments, set the thermostat to begin sooner and use more frequent cycles.

Provide Recirculation Fans, Adequate Ventilation

Recirculation fans improve air movement within the barn, but do not necessarily improve ventilation. Fans should be positioned in the holding area, over the feed bunk and over the stalls, but it is common to see fans used over the stalls and not over the feed bunk in many freestall pens.

Other guidelines:
• The use of water AND fans is most effective.
• If you cannot use both fans and sprinklers, choose low-pressure sprinklers, which cool more efficiently than fans alone.
• Run fans continuously at 65°F (18°C).
• Provide 5-8 mph (8-13 kph) airspeed over cow beds and feed alley.
• Fans should flow in direction of prevailing winds.
• Appropriately space the fans and angle (25-30 degrees from vertical) the air flow down toward the cow.

Provide Adequate Shade

Figure 1: Heat Stress Chart for Dairy Cattle